A New Age for American Independents?

It seems as if the grasp that vertical integration had on the U.S. is beginning to ease...does this mean brighter days for America's independent studios? Mike Young Productions, Curious Pictures and Film Roman respond.

U.S. independents have suffered through the heavy vertical integration of the 1990s. However, with large corporations deciding that perhaps in these tight times budgets could be better served by cutting big studio overheads, it seems like a bright new day could be on the horizon for the U.S.' brave independents. As competition looms from other animation nations, those with tax relief and government subsidies, it looks like the future will include diversity, co-productions and lots of ingenuity and innovation. Here three leading U.S. indie studios sound off on their prospects for the future.

Bill Schultz Creative Director Mike Young Productions, Woodland Hills, California

It is an exciting time for independent animation studios. In 1989 Fox commissioned Bobby's World from us at Film Roman. They offered to buy up all the rights by paying us a fee that was equal to what would have been, on any other network a license fee. Thus the beginning of vertical integration into the kids business. Next came the buildup of animation studios at Disney, Saban/Fox, Warner Bros. and soon after Nickelodeon. All of this squeezed the independents into a recession, where not only could they not own the shows they produced and created, but they were limited in terms of the work for hire business, as more and more owners had their own facilities.

Well flash forward to 2002, the apex of the vertical integration craze and the future is looking better for independents and animation in general. There's 2D, 3D, Flash, stop-motion... There are more channels with more specific programming niches -- action, cartoony, adult, very adult, gay, straight, sci-fi, comedy...or a mixture of all of the above!!! All the majors want to talk "co-production" or "acquisition." That Wall Street investment capital is being replaced by the sweat equity of creative, lean mean animation machines. Everything is cyclical, but better the second time around.

The year ahead will point to more change and in ways we never imagined. But that's why you better enjoy the ride, 'cause you never know if you'll get there....where ever that is. I have learned to accept radical changes in the landscape and look forward to what the future brings.

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kenyonindies02.gifRichard Winkler Vice President/Executive Producer Curious Pictures, New York City, New York

The only sure way to improve one's golf game is to go back and start playing at a younger age.

So my plan to deal with the "TV industry landscape" is to go back and get re-born as a Canadian.

I'll let you know how it works.

But seriously, our plan at Curious is to continue to develop innovative shows that work in multiple media, and to partner closely with broadcasters and marketers to co-develop properties.

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kenyonindies03.gifEric Radomski Executive Creative Director Film Roman, North Hollywood, California

At a minimum it will be a pivotal year. The events of September unfortunately have been used as the excuse for just about everything from passing on projects that might be perceived as "insensitive" to "economic adjustments" forcing delayed start-ups. Most annoying of all September 11th is the number one reason most often given to justify "staff reduction" and overall "budget cuts." It's quite disgusting, but true.

This year's executive mantra suggests that animated television shows are no longer "economically feasible." That's horse shit! The fact is networks/studios are greedier than ever and driven by their desire to increase their profit margin, short-term gain has become the norm.

As a result, the burden rests firmly on the shoulders of the U.S. production teams and overseas studios to produce and deliver the same quality product at a reduced rate. I believe in the integrity of most of the artists in the animation field and expect they will make their best effort in the coming year to produce the finest entertainment possible...all things considered.

This evolutionary bump in the entertainment industry offers an opportunity for independent studios and creators to capitalize on the sleeping giants of our industry, although everyone would just as soon distance themselves from their horrible memories of "Dot Com Dumb."

The digital world is the force to be reckoned with, from practical applications in production to the brave and bold world of wireless distribution. I believe we are on the verge of a new golden age of entertainment, which offers unlimited opportunities for any creative individual interested in side stepping the traditional "Hollywood" methodology, which is quickly securing its place in the halls of your local natural history museum.

Heather Kenyon is editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.

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